This story has to begin in October, 15th, 2007. It has to.
I was reporting to the University of Nairobi’s Main Campus for my 4-year Bachelor of Arts degree. So many of us. Young. Naïve. Foolish. You could see the overwhelming confusion on our faces. Some were accompanied by their parents. Some with their brothers. Some with their domineering elder sisters. Some by their guardians. And know-it-alls like me, were by themselves.
The last bureaucratic nonsense on that sunny Monday was room allocation at the hostels. Having arrived early, it means, we were to be given Hall 5, where a room was shared by at least three chaps, and those unlucky could be thrown into humongous corner rooms that hold up to eight first-years. I was lucky; I ended up in Room 417. I was handed two coolly, level-headed Kiuks, both named Simon. I was lucky. Some guys got a Luos, who prepared omena in the room without any apology…
I remember that day. We reeked of a certain village smell. Luos smelled of fish, you could sense it in their breath. You could sense a whiff of arrow-roots and potatoes in sweaty pates of the Kiuks, Embus and Merus. Kales with their athletic bodies too stood in the line. Muscular Luhyias, stood patiently there, wondering when the time for for lunch would come. Coastal folks spoke that fancy Swahili that we upcountry folks only marvel at. Though, they drag it too much for effect, especially when we eavesdropped on them. My future friend Ontere was with his elder brother who was fuming at anything. Damn, we Kisiis can be temperamental.
My first roommate had arrived. What that means is that you take the best bed, best mattress, and everything worthwhile. He took the bed that stood by itself on the left side and one wardrobe of the two available. When I arrived, I found him drowning a Fanta. Tall as me, long hair. In dark denim-jeans, and I think a pullover. He was quick on his feet, and ushered me into the room. The remaining two beds lay next to each other on the right side of the room, and naturally I had to take the one closer to the window and further from the door.
We firmly shook our hands.
I gave the mattress one long ass look and didn’t like it. It had no cover. It looked like the one that Otieno Kajwang slept on back in the day. It looked old, dusty, and repulsive. Reminded me of those bedbug infested mattresses back in high school. Around where the head rests, it had spittle drools, that drew the map of China. In the middle, it had some sticky matter, like dried up sperms from wet dreams or other sexual excretions that drew the map of Australia. It was a mattress that even a jailbird would grudgingly take up. The other bed did not have a mattress. Simon, ever so quick told me that; you just go to the next room and pick.
“Come on, let us just go there and get a mattress. Here it is first come, first served,” He said with a confidence I would not associate with a first year, more so of his age. I later figured out that it had to do with his schooling at Alliance.
Despite my gnawing conscience, we went to the room, and ran into some two or three old men with a young man, just admitted into the greatest university on the East Coast of Africa. The old men might have been his uncles probably telling him that HIV is real, to go slow on the ‘spoilt-university-ladies.’ Without as much as a word of ‘hi’, we grabbed a mattress from one of the beds and left, leaving them befuddled. That young man in the room, Dickson, would later perish in a freaky road accident somewhere in Nakuru, where he had gone to attend a wedding or something. Bless his soul. He was real a cool, decent chap, who kept to himself.
We locked the door, went down and Simon bought me a soda and some ndazi and we bid each other bye, and he disappeared and never to be seen until after a week.
The other Simon, did not surface until after eight to ten days. He arrived. He was exuded a boyish demeanor, light-skinned and was instantly likable. Ever met those guys you know are gentle within exchanging three sentences. He was one such. With an eager expectant smile. He didn’t say much. Listened a lot. And stuck to his lane. No chance of a run in. Whatsoever. What a fine young fine lad?
So it was official. I had two Kiuks for roommates. Certainly, they had never ventured beyond Kinoo or Nakuru to be fair, so I was sort of a curiosity to them. And I had never ventured beyond K.U going to Central. So we had our share of prejudices and stereotypes. And anyone can tell you the kind of stereotyping that Kiuks suffer in this country, especially in the Western part of Kenya. It is quite sticky. And sickeningly so. For instance, most boys from (Luo, Kisii and Luhyia communities) would be advised to avoid any Shiko, Njeri and any light-skinned girl. It always goes something like,
“Son, now you are an old boy. As you go there, avoid careless sexual habits. You know, Aids kills. (To which they take a break to count for you the number of rich men or degree holders that HIV has taken with them in the village).
Then they will specifically proceed to tell you that avoid women from Central.
“Those ones, however beautiful ( and they are without a doubt), will never settle here. If you go after them, you have to live with them in Nairobi. At some point, they will kill you and disappear with all your sweat and your kids.” Then pensively, they will count three unlucky men from your constituency who are suspected to have died under questionable circumstances and the wife went back to Kiambu. Or Nyeri. With the kids. And all the wealth.
With such of demonizing, we arrive at university with poisoned minds. 80% of Kisiis, Luos and Luhyias are advised so. Anyway, we get to campus, we realize that Kikuyu women are extremely beautiful, kindhearted, and wholly human. We fall in love with them. Go out with them. Sleep with them. They make good girlfriends, even though they cannot cook Ugali. Of course, they will leave you for some chap with money. But so will many others from other tribes, but the Kiuk ones will be singled out.
Every girl in campus likes money, but the Kiuk ladies will receive all the wrath of the stereotype. Anyway, Kiuk ladies of course will have a thing for men from the Western Kenya, especially Luos. And Luhyias sometimes. Has to do with the legendary shagging abilities of these boys compared to their men who think noodles with minced meat count for supper. For a Luhyia or a Kisii, that is just the starter. But somehow, no amount of sharing a bed can change their political leanings. They will still vote Uhuru. Or any Kiuk vying. But I digress.
So I had two Simons. Both from Central. They were both cool guys. Kept to their lanes. Hardly drunk any liquor. Actually, few weeks down the line, they were having Bible Studies in the room. Being an Adventist, we did not necessarily share doctrinal (I feel intellectual using this word) inclinations and I used to eschew their meetings and spent with my fellow Adventists elsewhere. Curiously, if any of us ever got laid in that room, then it must have been out of some genius sense of timing. The three of us did our stuff independently.
Hardly cooked together. Coming from Western Kenya, my culinary style was very dissimilar to theirs. Kiuks have always approached cooking from a utilitarian aspect and Westerners have always paid key attention to style and separation of foods. A meal has to have starch, protein and vitamins. Kiuks throw in everything. And Kiuks are just about the only tribe that cooks cabbage in Kenya. So they did their stuff independently. Mostly ate out. And once or twice we cooked together.
We never even once had an altercation. Certainly, not any that I can remember. We had a peaceful one year, only interrupted by that 2007/08 post-election madness occasioned by the tallying of election result. Us guys from Nyanza were euphoric going to bed leading by over one-million votes. Within 10 hours, Kibaki had pulled a historic comeback. And over a 1,000 lives were lost. Mostly Kiuks and Kisiis. In spite of the seething hatred and virulent political differences, we stayed together the two semesters and went our separate ways. For the next three years, we would bump into each in class. In the corridors. In town. But we remained great buddies.
Sometime in July, Simon, the shorter one, sent me a wedding invitation via Whatsapp. I had to attend. It coincided with Camp Meeting convention for my church. The final day. In the morning, I attended the church. Afternoon, I went to Ruiru. Zetech University where the reception was being held.
It was a million dollar, yet, simple wedding. The crowd may have been at least a thousand people. And boy, do Kiuk women love weddings? Or is it all women? When the bride and the bridegroom came from the church, after a photo-shoot, the crowd was electrified.
And damn, the bride was one of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid my eyes on. So happy. So beautiful. They had settled for White. There were about ten bridesmaid and groomsmen. The rest of dancing crew was mostly women drawn from the church.
I stood there with the other Simon. Tall as ever. We were pensive. And cool. The way men are under such circumstances. Men are rarely happy at weddings. Neither do we like our girlfriends attending weddings, lest they get very expensive ideas. What was unraveling in front of us was a statement of the passage of time.
A few years ago, we were in our early 20s. Marriage was a distant thing in space and time. We barely knew how to speak to women. Some in first year, hardly knew how to kiss. Yet, here we stood and one of us was exiting the bachelorhood phase of life. And with a beautiful bride. Genuinely happy with him. And here we stood, lost. Wondering what makes women so happy during weddings.
I want to wish Simon a happy marital life. They seemed happy. And nothing should change in marriage. I just tell Simon to be the man in the relationship. He is. Provide. Protect. Care. Love her. And let her take charge of the house. Do the plumbing and the wiring. Let her choose the colour of curtains. And the curtains. And the bed sheets. Keep your calm amidst challenges. And storms. Never be afraid. Nothing to fear in marriage. Be honest, certainly, some secrets you got keep men. To cover your ass, just in case. If possible, be very faithful. If you must stray (and I hope, you never), make sure she never knows.
In the meantime, that tea and lunch for room 417, is already long overdue. In two to five years, with luck, we will walk down the aisle. We will come to you for notes. Test the waters for us. Happy married bliss Simon.
Part 2, on Thursday, I will update you what the other boys have been up to.